Monday, October 5, 2009

FTC calls for transparency in blogging

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is calling for bloggers to be upfront about those who provide them financial support.

ComputerWorld reports it like this:
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today released new guidelines requiring all bloggers to disclose any payments or freebies they get from companies in exchange for writing reviews of their products.

The new rules come as part of an update to the FTC's guidelines on keeping advertisements and testimonial ads in line with the FTC Act, which was set up to prevent unfair competition methods, as well as deceptive acts that would affect commerce. The FTC noted that this is the first update to guidance for advertisers since 1980.
I think this should apply for bloggers discussing public policy issues.

Here are two specific examples.

Cheron Brylski operates a public relations company in New Orleans. She also runs a blog that she calls "Krewe of Truth" which is a truly great name. I know Cheron and like her and we agree on a lot of issues. But, on at least one issue, I think she's crossed the line.

That issue is healthcare reform. Cheron's firm represents the pharmaceutical industry. And her Krewe of Truth blogs did not make that clear for a while, until some readers called her out on it.

All of her readers would have benefited from knowing that some of her opinions were work products. Are there others beyond healthcare reform? I don't know, but I do know about that one.

A second blogger with paid clients who benefit from his writing is Geoff Dailey, whose Apprising blog is widely circulated on various technology lists nationally. Geoff has been paid by Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) for at least several months this year. He is paid to promote the LUS fiber story. It's a great story. I worked to get that system approved by voters. I subscribe to the system now.

I heard about Geoff's contract a few months ago. Like Cheron's readers,  I think all of Geoff Dailey's readers are entitled to know when his opinions are the paid product of work for his clients.

There is nothing wrong with bloggers writing favorably about products and issues they believe in. That is what it's about.

But, paid opinions are another matter. They cross a line. And readers have a right to know when what they are reading is the unbiased belief of the blogger, or is part of a paid effort they have undertaken as part of their work for clients. The FTC says this rule should apply to product reviews.

I think it should apply to public policy blogging as well.

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